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Ordinarily, a slow-moving vehicle at night in the Iowa countryside spotlighting deer, raccoons or coyotes would send Iowans to their phone, speed-dialing their local conservation officer, but in this case, it may be the officer doing the shining.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources annual spring spotlight survey is underway with Wildlife and Law Enforcement staff conducting nighttime counts of all fur-bearing animals, and white-tailed deer.
The survey begins in early spring an hour after sunset, preferably on a night with a clear sky, low wind, and high humidity. Each county has a preselected route covering 50 miles of varying habitat. Surveyors will follow the route driving below 20 miles per hour, shining spotlights from both sides of the vehicle.
But step one for the survey is to alert the local county sheriff of the activity, in case they get any suspicious vehicle calls.
“This is a big effort,” said Tyler Harms, a wildlife researcher with the Iowa DNR who collects the data from all of the routes. “This survey is the primary way we count deer and a major source of population data for our skunks, badgers, opossum, red fox, coyotes and other furbearers.”
The survey routes were designed to include all types of habitats found on the Iowa landscape in an effort to not skew the number of animals counted in either way.
“We include river bottoms, prairie habitat, farm fields, pastures, timber stands and acreages on our routes, so we can collect information on which habitat types these species prefer most,” said Harms.
The spring spotlight survey began in the late 1970s as a raccoon-only survey to determine if there was any impact of increased harvest on the population during a time of high pelt prices. Over time, it transitioned to include all furbearers and deer.
“Data collected from this survey are used as one factor to estimate deer populations and provide valuable information for making management decisions for our furbearer species,” Harms said.